El Mirage

Jimmy Webb

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

El Mirage Review

by William Ruhlmann

Jimmy Webb, best known as a songwriter ("MacArthur Park," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"), recorded three albums for Reprise Records between 1970 and 1972, and a fourth for Asylum in 1974, without commercial impact, before subsiding into the background work of writing, producing, and arranging for other artists. But he came back to the forefront in May 1977 with the release of El Mirage on Atlantic, his most polished effort yet as a performer. On the Reprise LPs, he had seemed intent on erasing his image as a middle-of-the-road hitmaker, taking a more personal approach to his writing, rocking harder, and singing in a sometimes rough voice. But by the age of 30, he seemed to have reconciled himself to being more of a pop artist, and El Mirage reflected that. The music was produced, arranged, and conducted by George Martin, famed for his work with the Beatles, the strongest outside figure Webb had ever allowed into his recording sessions, and those sessions also were peopled by the cream of Los Angeles musicians, along with such familiar guests as members of Elton John's backup band and, for vocal support, Kenny Loggins and Billy Davis of the 5th Dimension (which had scored hits with such Webb compositions as "Up-Up and Away"). These were lush tracks full of tasty playing and warm string charts on which Webb's thin tenor was buoyed by numerous background vocalists, the whole an excellent example of the style known as "West Coast pop." Webb brought several typically strong compositions, beginning with the time-spanning saga "The Highwayman" (later a number one country song for the quartet of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, who then took the group name the Highwaymen in its honor, and a Best Country Song Grammy winner) and including the autobiographical "If You See Me Getting Smaller I'm Leaving" (released simultaneously by Jennings), about life on the road as a struggling performer, and "Christiaan, No," a heartfelt message from a parent to a child that actually had been introduced on record the previous year by Glen Campbell. Also featured was the sad, lovely ballad "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," already recorded by Campbell, Joe Cocker, and Judy Collins. The album's second side was somewhat weaker than the first, including an unnecessary remake of "P.F. Sloan," which had appeared on Webb's debut solo album in 1970; a nod to faithful backup guitarist Fred Tackett in a recording of his song "Dance to the Radio"; and a concluding instrumental, "Skylark (A Meditation)." But El Mirage was an album crafted to reshape Webb's image as a performer and relaunch his performing career. (As Richie Unterberger notes in his annotations to Collectors' Choice Music's 2006 reissue, Webb told New Musical Express that if the album didn't "make it," he might give up recording. It didn't, and another five years passed before the next Jimmy Webb solo album.)

blue highlight denotes track pick